The fact that records are flat discs makes them easy to lay out on the floor...you just have to remember not to step on them. Right now, photographer Eilon Paz gingerly navigates between the 20 or so vinyl LPs spread out in front of him. They belong to Eothen "Egon" Alapatt of Now-Again Records and they come from origins as far-flung as Lusaka (Zambia) and São Paolo (Brazil), as well as a little closer to home: Fresno. Shooting record collectors and their collections is Paz's speciality and today, he's at Alapatt's GlassellPark home to photograph some choice pieces from the compiler/DJ's shelves. Egon picks up the album from Fresno, a hyper-obscure psych rock LP by Stephen David Heitkotter - "he's institutionalized now and doesn't even remember making the album," shares Egon - and Paz snaps away, trying to create the right composition between the record, Egon, and the mise en scene of Alapatt's pristinely kept mid-century interior.
Paz is out in Los Angeles as part of the West Tour "tour" for his Dust & Grooves (D&G) project. D&G began when Paz relocated from his home country of Israel to New York City in 2008. While he makes his living shooting mostly portraiture, he wanted to find a side project to hold his interest. As a record fanatic himself, Paz gravitated to other vinyl junkies and began with shooting Brazilian record collector and store owner Joel Oliveria four years ago. Since then, he's done another forty D&G shoots (not including the half-dozen and more he has planned for his current West Coast trip). [Disclosure: Paz and I sat down for a mutual interview and he shot me and my collection after I interviewed him.] Dust & Grooves is in the process of looking for a potential book publisher; Paz just successfully concluded a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project.
Paz grew up in the Israeli desert city of Arad, two hours away from Tel Aviv which, as he explains, "is pretty secluded...when you talk about Israeli standards. I think we maybe had one record store." His interest in records actually began when his family moved to Mexico City for a year in the early 1980s; there, he picked up Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace on vinyl and thus began a nearly 30 year love affair.
When he began to shoot record collectors, "it was mostly about quantity. I was looking for big collections," says Paz but it wasn't purely to catalog vinyl hoarding tendencies. Records are, of course, art objects unto themselves - 12x12 canvases with two sides - but they're also mostly two-dimensional. That makes shooting them liable to become a little repetitive, especially if it's strictly about the cover art. If that's the case, you might as well just scan them. But for Paz, he wanted depth and dimensionality in his photos and his shoots have become built around, "trying to get the sense of space into the photo." One of his most striking photos was from this past summer, a massive 78 collection owned by Maryland's Joe Bussard.
Paz explains, "what makes it so visually striking is that he's meticulously organized. All the sleeves are those brown generic, 78 sleeves. The carpet has these lines that kind of continue the lines of the records. That's what makes you stop and look at it." However, Paz - whose shoots often go for hours - always tries to find interesting ways to shoot individual records, often asking his subjects to "naturally" pose with them, whether cradling them in their hands or more directly displaying them for the camera. "12" singles are the hardest to shoot," Paz sighs. 12"s - which came into the fore during the disco era and have since been a default format for dance and hip-hop singles - generally have no cover art; all the record has is its shape and a small 4" label that, in Pas'z view lacks much visual appeal. To get around these kinds of limitations, Paz will often ask his subjects to hold records in a way that centers their prominence yet allows for other visual nuances into frame.
With Egon, Paz casually moves between a more vérité, fly-on-the-wall shots of Alapatt swapping records in and out of his shelves vs. asking him to pose with albums and provide small audio-biographies of each LP's import. "What is the right record?," Paz asks, rhetorically. "Stuff that is really intriguing, or has a special connection to the collector." Egon tells Paz the story behind East of Underground, a superb soul album from 1971, recorded by American servicemen in Germany as part of a "Original Magnificent Special Services Entertainment Showband Contest." (Now-Again reissued the album as part of a deluxe set a year ago). Paz tells me later, "This project has been like a music school for me. I learn so much. I try to absorb as much as I can."
Turning Dust & Grooves from a site into a book came more as a reaction from his readers than something Paz initially brainstormed. "They actually demanded it," said Paz. "They'd say 'you've gotta make a book outta this' and it took me awhile to pick up and start moving with this. It was just something I was doing in my spare time. Now it seems that it takes most of my time." The goal of the book isn't purely for documenting his dozens of shoots; he wants it to be a meditation on record culture at large and is thinking through various themes for his chapters, including collectors who obsessively specialize over one genre. "I heard of someone with the biggest collection of James Bond records; I'd like to shoot that," says Paz. He's also angling on another chapter best described as "famous people you wouldn't think collect records, but do." On his wish list includes comedian Steve Martin, who supposedly has a killer collection of banjo records, and actor Matt Dillon, a Latin and Brazilian record aficionado.
One section for the book is what Paz calls "Vinyl Quotes": pithy, philosophical reflections on the appeal of records. I ask Paz what explains his own attraction to them. He pauses and then replies, "what I like about records is that they're physical. You touch them, smell them. They have history on them and they deserve your attention when you play them. You can't just play a record, put it on the turntable and forget about it. If you forget about it, it will remind you that it's there."
All images © - Eilon Paz - www.dustandgrooves.com